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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 14, 2010 • Issue 10:06:01

How to use technology to redefine today's economy

By Daniel Burrus
Burrus Research Associates Inc.

Today we're in an era of technology-driven transformation. That means you can attain higher profits when you use technology to redefine your products, your services or how the industry in general works.

Unfortunately, most companies use technology only one way: to lower costs and become more efficient. They view technology as a way to "do more with less," "streamline the workflow" and "trim expenses." Sound familiar?

While that is certainly one good use of technology, you can also use it to redefine the marketplace as well as your products and services so that technology becomes a creation tool. You can create new products, new services and entire new markets, which then creates new jobs and careers.

Why is this important? Currently the United States is digging out of the worst recession since the 1930s, and the global economy is suffering its worst setback in decades. Recovering is all about jobs and how to create them.

You don't create jobs by increasing productivity; you create jobs by creating new products, services and markets. So even though we have a statistical recovery, we have a human recession. And recovery can't be jobless.

We can use technology to eliminate jobs or create them. It's time for businesses to focus on redefining as a tool for job creation. If you're ready to start redefining your company so you can grow your business and stay profitable as you create jobs for years to come, consider the following guidelines.

Know where you're going

Look at your product, service or industry and see how you can use technology to redefine it. The classic example is Amazon.com. When its founders started the business, they used technology to redefine how people sell books. But they didn't stop there.

They expanded to other products and redefined how nearly everything is sold. Then they redefined again. They developed a large information technology (IT), logistics and warehouse system, and they now rent out their enterprise IT platform and warehousing space to other companies. They are not only redefining an industry; they're also redefining themselves.

Another example is Apple Inc. Back in early 2000, before Apple launched the iPod and iPhone, most people thought Apple was quickly going out of business.

That's when the company redefined itself around music. It redefined again with the iPhone, which is telecommunications. Now Apple's doing it again with the iPad, which will launch another revolution as it redefines ebook readers and media players. Like Amazon.com, Apple has redefined itself as well as its industry. So when it comes to your company and your industry, ask yourself:

  • What is growing and what is shrinking?
  • What is the future direction, based on technology? (For example, getting more energy efficient and going green are both long-term trends. Virtual marketing and social networking also represent long-term trends.)
  • Given where your customers and your industry are going, how can you use technology to create new opportunities?

Understand how technology is affecting your customers

Look at how technology is affecting your customers in your industry right now. Don't just look at productivity. Look at the overall customer experience in addition to who is buying your offerings.

For example, in the late 1970s, when ultra light aviation was born, the first ultra light aircrafts were basically hang-gliders with engines. The Federal Aviation Association decided, due to the size and weight of the plane, people didn't need a pilot's license to fly an ultra light aircraft.

As a result, the first ultra light manufacturers targeted that demographic: people who wanted to fly but who didn't have the time or money to get a pilot's license. One company, UltraSports, thought it could attract a better customer, so it asked, "Why not redefine the product, the customer, and the market?"

Rather than target those who wanted to fly but didn't have a license or the income to afford an aircraft, UltraSports targeted commercial jet pilots and flight instructors for its ultra light aircrafts. After all, these were the best pilots; they loved to fly and they had money. However, because of their jobs, flying had become more automated and less fun.

Then UltraSports went one step further and redefined the ultra light aircraft itself by adding a stick and rudder and instrument controls. It made the ultra light fly like an airplane rather than a hang-glider, which better appealed to its target market. UltraSports became a national leader in its first year, all because it redefined who its customer was and made product changes accordingly. So when it comes to your customers, ask yourself:

  • Is there a better customer? For example, maybe you're selling to a customer who can only afford low-margin products and services.
  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • Is there a customer you don't have but should have?
  • Could you redefine your product and attract that customer?
  • How can you use technology to enhance your product or service in some way that opens up a market or creates a new market for you - and thus new jobs?

Take competition seriously

Look at the specific ways in which you compete in the marketplace, as well as what makes you unique. Then decide how technology can redefine the way you compete. For example, when was the last time you bought something from the Polaroid Co.? At one time, it was the king of instant photography.

But then technology and digital photography changed the industry, but Polaroid didn't change with it. Instead, it made the mistake many businesses do: it used technology to get more efficient and lower its costs.

Similarly, the Kodak Co. was failing for over a decade. Finally, the company looked at how it competed in the past, as well as what it would take to compete in the future. That's when Kodak embraced digital photography. And while the company still has traditional film labs across the country, it's the company's digital products division that's profitable today.

The moral: The longer you wait to redefine how you compete, the harder it is to survive. However, when you pinpoint a way to use technology to create new products and services, you add new revenue streams and new jobs.So when it comes to competing in a technology-driven age, ask yourself how you can use technology to:

  • Redefine how you compete?
  • Change your product or how you service people?
  • Redefine your customer's experience?

A (re)defining moment

Staying ahead during a technology-driven transformation is indeed possible. It's all about looking at where your customers are going rather than where they have been. It's about looking at where technology is evolving and how it is shaping the market, not where it used to be.

When you ask the right questions and take action on what the answers reveal, you can use technology to redefine your company, create new jobs and experience higher profits than ever before. end of article

Technology forecaster and business strategist Daniel Burrus is the author of six books, including the critically acclaimed Technotrends. He is also the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Burrus Research Associates Inc., a firm that monitors global advancements in technology-driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create untapped opportunities. For more information, please visit www.burrus.com.

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